Monday, July 26, 2010

Formation of the Armidale Newspaper Company

On 22 July, Gordon Smith carried this post on his Old News from Armidale and New England blog.

"Armidale Newspaper Company Limited

Friday 12 April 1929, The Sydney Morning Herald


The following companies have been registered, shares (except where otherwise stated) being of the value of £1 each:

The Armidale Newspaper Company, Limited, capital £30,000; to purchase, acquire, take over and amalgamate, or carry on the business of the Armidale Express Newspaper at present carried on at Armidale by P. C. G. Hipgrave and J. B. McKenzie, and the business of the Armidale Chronicle Newspaper at present carried on at Armidale by A. Purkiss. First directors: R. B. Austin, E. C. Sommerlad, H. F. White. Registered office, Armidale, N.S.W."

Now as it happens, I can provide a little more information on this story. I quote from Drummond's life 5 - The Minister: 1927-1929. The footnotes will be found in the original post. 

"In those pre-radio and television days, the local press was the main source of community information.[65] Originally even the smallest towns had their own independent newspaper to press the interests of town and district. However, from the first decade of this century rising wages, the development of new and costlier technology, and growing competition from the metropolitan dailies began to threaten the financial survival of the country press. Papers started to close or merge, while a number became daily publications. These new country dailies were aggressive. In the North the Grafton Daily Examiner and Northern Daily Leader combined with the Lismore Northern Star and the Murwillumbah Tweed Daily to form the Associated Northern Dailies. An office was opened in Sydney to sell advertising space and a joint rate was offered to advertisers willing to advertise in all four papers. In 1931 the Maitland Daily Mercury joined the group.

Competition from the Northern Dailies combined with that from the Sydney press to increase the pressure on the other newspapers still being published on a tri-, bi- or weekly basis. This competition was not all one-sided. In September 1926, for example, Sommerlad wrote to Drummond with glee that the Glen Innes Examiner had

.. got a good one on Tamworth yesterday, in connection with the rail smash. Armidale passed the word on that Tamworth were sending a special edition up, to arrive about 7pm. I got busy & made a fine display of stuff in the short time available. Then hired a motor-bike and sent 350 copies to Inverell, having rung Knapton to get a dodger out in the meantime. The street was blocked with people waiting for copies & we made a great sale - & a great scoop.[66]

Despite such successes, the pressure on the smaller papers grew. Again the response was merger, associated with the closure of the smaller papers. In 1923 Sommerlad merged the Glen Innes Guardian into the Glen Innes Examiner, following this in 1926 with the merger of the Inverell Times and Inverell Argus. A new company, Northern Newspapers Limited, was formed to take over both the Inverell papers and the Glen Innes Examiner. Sommerlad became Chairman and Managing Director, while the other directors included Harold Knapton (former proprietor of the Inverell Times) and Drummond.

Drummond had probably not been actively involved in Sommerlad's business activities before accepting the appointment to the Northern Newspapers' Board. However, he played an active role in the next stage of the consolidation process, the merger of the two rival Armidale papers, the Armidale Express and the Armidale Chronicle.

In 1928, a financial adventurer, William John Beckett, formed a new company to launch a chain of newspapers around Australia. Armidale was apparently mentioned as one of the key centres in the Beckett proposals. Beckett's notoriety created immediate concern: realising 'that at all costs Beckett must be prevented from getting a foothold in the North',[67] Sommerlad and Albert Joseph (the founder of the Northern Daily Leader) agreed that the Tamworth Newspaper Company and Northern Newspapers should jointly sponsor the merger of the two papers. In Sommerlad's view, this outside intervention was necessary 'since the two Armidale proprietors were so mutually jealous there was no possibility of the amalgamation being brought about except by an outsider.'[68] Drummond's newspaper experience had already suggested to him that merger would be desirable,[69] and he fully supported Sommerlad's plan.

In February 1929 the Tamworth Newspaper Company Board refused to participate in the agreement, probably because of tensions between Tamworth and the other parties involved.[70] With Tamworth's withdrawal, Harold Knapton wrote to Sommerlad saying Northern should now pull out unless they owned the 'whole show' since he doubted the capacity of the Armidale promoters to succeed in a larger newspaper.[71] Drummond disagreed,[72] and the parties decided to proceed. On 10 April 1929, The Armidale Newspaper Company Limited was formed with Dr. R.B. Austin (Chairman), E.C. Sommerlad (Managing Director) and Colonel H.F. White as initial directors.[73] W.S. Forsyth, the main Armidale promoter, wrote happily to Sommerlad that he was 'pleased with the entire outlook.'[74] Drummond and three others were appointed to the Board at the first directors' meeting,[75] and then, on 2 September 1929, the first edition of the merged paper appeared.[76]"

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